Tucked inside what seemed like the very edge of the Ateneo campus is Iggy’s Canteen.
It was where my dear friend, Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ, and I, had our “catch-up” lunch. I entered a hall full of people, and there stood Fr. Manoling to welcome me. He led me to our table by the cashier, and introduced me to each and every one who works at Iggy’s.
I learned that the Iggy’s Canteen crew came together during the onset of the pandemic. Many of them hail from Marikina. Having lost their jobs, they were taken in by the Tanging Yaman Foundation (TYF) as packers. With their help, care packages were distributed swiftly and efficiently to the less fortunate.
Three years hence and after more than P400 million worth of relief goods distributed, they remain with TYF.
Before face-to-face classes at Ateneo resumed, they were parol makers, then later silkscreen printers.
When the college students returned and regained the use of the large college covered court, which for years served as the working area of TYF, Fr. Manoling had to find alternative ways to employ his crew.
Never in his wildest dreams did he think that he would one day be directly involved with a canteen, from menu planning to costing and even plating.
It’s hilarious how he now has menu and catering packages saved on his phone.
Indeed, there is no stopping what the Lord has planned for you, regardless of how far-fetched you might think it is.
Iggy’s opened its doors on July 16, 2022.
I was amused as Fr. Manoling introduced Iggy’s staff one by one. Like us, they, too, have life tales to tell.
Tatay Zuillo was a zapatero, and now a barman who blends shakes and handles cold desserts like halo-halo and a host of other con hielo desserts.
Madame Z is a beautician by night, and a tusok-tusok specialist by day. He is in charge of street food favorites such as fishballs, kwek-kwek, kikiam and squid balls. His offerings are clean and his fishball sauce, to die for! It is an upgraded version of the much beloved fishball sauce from the carts of our youth. It’s the perfect combination of the sauces after you’ve dipped your fishballs in all the different garapon. Remember the ritual? Dip in the vinegar, then sweet sauce then last the spicy one. Madame Z’s sauce is the perfect blend, a 3-in-1 sauce, accentuated by black pepper.
There is Gerry, a single father, raising his daughter alone. He goes around the canteen to look after their customers’ needs.
Armando, the chef, is from a restaurant that folded, but was recently asked to report to a restaurant in Timog, lured by a bigger salary. He opted to remain at Iggy’s.
Lauro, the restaurant manager, was an OFW in Saudi, but has now found contentment working at the canteen.
Pia, the cashier, is the wife of Christian, who works at the TYF Talipapa.
The TYF Talipapa is where the canteen buys their vegetables. It is where vegetables are so fresh, yet so reasonably priced, as Fr. Manoling sources the produce directly from the farmers.
The canteen’s offerings are as plentiful as the workers’ life stories.
Iggy’s menu is vast, with something for everyone—from budget-friendly meals that start at P40 to the roast beef with French fries for those who wish to splurge. At P180, it is the most expensive item on the menu.
Available are all-time favorites like siomai and Korean beef stew. Bacon and eggs, homemade tapa and eggs, Spam and eggs are among the top sellers.
There are big meals as well, the likes of inihaw na liempo, pork barbecue, pork tonkatsu and salpicao.
Fr. Manoling came over with a pan of fried liempo and sitaw and rice, slathered with kare-kare sauce. I was being served fried kare-kare.
When I asked for a plate, Fr. Manoling said, “That’s your plate.” As it turns out, the canteen’s “sosy” fare is presented on nonstick frying pans.
Other dishes were laid on the table by Fr. Manoling, who was my waiter for the day. I sampled the beef tapa that was soft and tasty. On the same plate was a serving of crispy adobo flakes.
There was a gigantic vegetable lumpia, which was my absolute favorite, only at P25 each. With the suka, it was so satisfying.
The Lord truly does provide. Without asking for it, and just out of the blue, Fr. Manoling received calls from SM Home and SM Appliances. The furnishings at Iggy’s were mostly donated. Even Coca-Cola Philippines gave a giant TV.
The canteen was packed from the time I arrived till the time I left. There was never an empty table. As customers walked out, a new batch would waltz in. As plentiful as the diners were the meals being prepared on the side for takeaway.
Business is booming for Iggy’s, with its name taken from St. Ignatius’.
During lunch, Fr. Manoling and I talked about the deluge of people who would come on foot to an eatery that, to me, seemed like the remotest part of the campus when there are so many other places in Ateneo to choose from.
We came to the conclusion that Iggy’s was built by God’s grace, and it is by His provision that patrons come in droves.
For the programs of TYF, visit the Tanging Yaman website (https://tangingyaman.org) and the Tanging Yaman Foundation Facebook Page.
www.reggieaspiras.com; @iamreggieaspiras on Instagram and Facebook.